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Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping by…
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Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping (2006)

by Judith Levine

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6964421,560 (3.09)23
An award-winning journalist traces a year during which she and her partner struggled with a pledge to avoid consumer spending practices in spite of their American conditioning, an effort that had a profound impact on their careers, family relationships, and personal identities.
  1. 20
    The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove by Cathy Erway (kristenn)
  2. 10
    Clean and Green: The Complete Guide to Non-Toxic and Environmentally Safe Housekeeping by Annie Berthold-Bond (solsken)
    solsken: Those interested in ecological living have to face the issue of consumerism as well. J.Levine keeps a journal of her year without shopping for anything but the basic necessities, while also doing some research on the topic.
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» See also 23 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 44 (next | show all)
A lot of naval gazing about buying stuff. The premise of the book sounded great: the author is shocked by the call buy things in order to help the US economy. And starts gazing at her own purchases and how much she buys. So she and her partner decide to experiment by not buying anything that is not necessarily (and going for cheaper versions if possible) for a whole year.
 
It starts off with some pretty interesting things. What is and what is not necessary? What are some generic swaps that are just fine but others should not be done? Is a charitable donation "necessary"? How do they handle invitations from friends? What about "borrowing" or getting freebies? And for my own question: why are things like 'The New York Times' and Starbucks necessary?
 
Unfortunately, while the book brings up some great questions and has some interesting insights about consumerism, buying, etc. I found it entirely too naval-gazing and just a little obnoxious. She had her partner have 3 cars and 2 residences between them. They aren't top of the line, expensive cars fresh from the factory nor are their living abodes mansions. But the couple can afford to take ski trips and are in a position where they both pretty much work from home. Their strata (economic and otherwise) is very different from many other people who can't afford to own one place, a car and don't have an opportunity to work from home.
 
I also found her section about shopping in an Asian market rather insightful. She and her partner avoid a bunch of sauces that "baffle our Western palates" and "what sometimes tastes to us like spoilage" (which may be true but it may also mean they've never bothered coming out of their bland-food-taste shell). She actually has a paragraph dedicated to why she won't drink bubble tea and how it came to New York City in an immigration wave. Sorry, but this section came across as just a bit xenophobic, even if she perhaps did not intend it to.
 
As other reviewers have said, she tends to come across as rather self-centered and shallow. She even mentions that without shopping she has a lot more time on her hands I cannot be on a high horse (I certainly have purchases that others may think are really ridiculous), but...how much shopping could she do? Personally I dislike shopping but I...don't understand how much time that could free up. What was she shopping for?
 
I'd like for this woman and her husband to consider the questions of what some people face: do I pay the rent or go without food? Do I walk to work so my kids (neither she nor her partner have children, which ALSO makes this book rather unapproachable in other ways too) can take the bus? What about the medication for my condition?
 
There is much to think about regarding consumerism (she relates a story of her neighbors who came from Eastern European countries) that is food for thought. But clearly this woman has never been in a position (nor has known anyone who has been) where she has had to give up many of her "necessities" just to get by. The book is all over the place and I can't say I can recommend it. Do what the book says and borrow this one from the library if you're that curious. ( )
  acciolibros | Feb 11, 2018 |
By the time I got around to reading this, I couldn't help remembering someone's crack about the simple-living movement not being new; it's called being poor. Of course, simple living is a deliberate lifestyle whereas being poor isn't anything people really strive for. Still, I just couldn't really buy this story about a childless, educated, intellectual couple making a decent living and owning a New York apartment and Vermont cabin, attempting to live simply. The author does a lot of intellectualizing and quoting philosophers, and by the September chapter I just lost patience. I rode it out through the December chapter and the one thing I could appreciate about their year-long experiment is that it got them more civically engaged. If it were written from a different approach, I might have enjoyed it more. ( )
  Salsabrarian | Feb 2, 2016 |
The author of this book and her partner decide to cut out all unnecessary spending for a year, which started out as an interesting concept but veered off into too much emphasis on political points. Several times the author refers to their home in Vermont as being in the "Northeast Kingdom" which I had never heard of and had to look up - turns out the Northeast Kingdom consists of just 3 counties in the northeastern corner of Vermont - seemed kind of snobby. I found the book disappointing. ( )
  flourgirl49 | Jan 27, 2015 |
Interesting concept, and well written. Levine offers insights into her thoughts during a year without buying anything beyond absolute necessities. She also spends a great deal of time reviewing studies of consumerism, as well as the effects of the industrialized, consumer society on the Earth. Her political rants left me cold - here's a tip, our country was focused on consuming long before the Presidency of George W. Bush. But to me the most touching part of the book was at the end, when she describes her husband Paul as "wistful" at the end of the experiment, realizing that turning their backs on so much drew them closer together as a couple.

Bookcrossing: http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/5748756/ ( )
  wareagle78 | Jan 23, 2014 |
Freelance writer who wants a book deal? Think of some activity or non-activity and spend a year doing it while keeping a diary of your experience. This has been a popular subgenre of memoir in the past several years and in fact many of these books are quite good, for instance [b:The Year of Living Biblically|495395|The Year of Living Biblically One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible As Literally As Possible|A.J. Jacobs|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1266569301s/495395.jpg|2325789] and [b:Helping Me Help Myself|1480063|Helping Me Help Myself One Skeptic, Twelve Self-Help Programs, One Whirlwind Year of Improvement|Beth Lisick|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1266813957s/1480063.jpg|1471133]. I seem to be attracted to these books and I like some more than others. This was one of the others.

Levine has an interesting life which appears to have a lot of freedom built in (as well as the typical freelancer's insecurity, the other side of the coin.) She and her partner Paul spend about half the year in a Brooklyn apartment she owns, living the fast-paced life of the New York intelligentsia. The other part of the year is spent in Vermont's hardscrabble Northeast Kingdom, in Paul's modest house outside a small town where he is on the Zoning Board. As you might guess, it's a little easier for the couple to stick to their "buy only essentials" plan in Vermont than in New York.

I don't know how I would react to a similar experiment, but the whiny tone of much of the book was annoying. While in New York, Levine mentions often the pain of not getting to see the latest film or play or read the latest book immediately. I guess it's a New York thing. But then, I am someone who finally saw The Graduate, one of the Important Films of my generation, only about a year ago.

One of my problems with this type of memoir is that it's easy for the author to go off on a tangent which has little or nothing to do with the stated subject of the book. In this case, since the book takes place in 2004, it's the Presidential election. Since Levine and her partner had agreed that Internet access was a necessity for their work, it seems to me she could easily participate in the democratic process without buying anything, yet she spent at least a chapter on the campaign and election. I'd say there was a little too much about the controversy in their Vermont town about a proposed cell-phone tower (in which Paul was involved because it was a zoning matter), but at least there Levine had something to say about consumption as it relates to technology. Nevertheless I kept thinking "It's all very well for you to say the people in Vermont don't need cell phones, you're going back to New York!"

Levine did learn a few things from her experiment and derived some benefits. She learned to appreciate the public library and other free entertainment available in New York. She paid off her credit card and didn't run it up again. It's even possible she may have lost a little weight or at least lowered her cholesterol by foregoing street food and lattes for a year. It was interesting that the two occasions on which she seriously backslid involved the purchase of new clothing.

I wouldn't NOT recommend this book to someone interested in the question: who are we if we are not consumers? (I liked her point that taking up even the simplest outdoor activity seems to trigger a "need" to buy a bunch of equipment!) But I thought the book could have been better. I believe there are books or at least blogs by people who either tried to buy only American-made goods or to buy only used or recycled items, and I'd like to find those for comparison. ( )
  auntieknickers | Apr 3, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 44 (next | show all)
Savings was not the goal of the project, but, admittedly, I was disappointed by the bottom line.
 
Levine offers banal solutions in search of a problem, while leaving the real problems for others to investigate.
added by stephmo | editSalon.com, Ann Marlow (Mar 13, 2006)
 
But otherwise, this honest and humorous tale of a nonspending year is well worth putting aside a few hours to read.
 
Best of all, while she makes you want to repent for your greed more than a few times, she also points out the absurdities of ''voluntary simplicity'' and recognizes the soul-stirring happiness implicit in finding a perfect new pair of heels, making Not Buying It well worth its price.
 
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To Paul Cillo, partner in parsimony

and to Ellen Willis (1942-2006)
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The idea occurs to me, as so many desperate resolutions do, during the holiday season.
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May 25

I have visited four other libraries in Brooklyn and Manhattan looking for the fabric-craft books. All are AWOL: Away Without Loan. "It's tough to keep that kind of book on the shelf," one librarian tells me. "They're expensive, people want to own them, and we can't afford to keep replacing them."

"Don't people get it that the public library is for the public?" I ask her, singing a hymn to the choir. She looks up at me with gentle eyes, as if she has just broken it to a child that people can be mean.

I shake my head and walk away, unable to decide which distresses me more: the rape and pillage of the commons or the idea that a person who makes silk flowers would steal a book from the library.
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